Timo Meier

Three fuzzy questions for the Sharks

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.

Let’s bat around three questions for the Sharks in 2019-20.

1. What’s going on with Joe Thornton?

Every indication is that Thornton is coming back for next season, and that he’ll do so for the Sharks.

But … you know, it’s getting close to September, and he hasn’t signed yet. And Thornton is 40. So it’s fair to wonder until he actually signs on the dotted line for whatever total. Maybe that’s part of the holdup; Cap Friendly estimates the Sharks’ space at about $4.6M with 21 roster spots covered, while Thornton made $5M last season.

With the other Joe (Pavelski) now in Dallas, the Sharks have to hope that Thornton is indeed coming back.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Thornton was impressive last season, managing 51 points in 73 games despite being limited (wisely) to an average ice time of 15:33 per game. His possession stats were outstanding for any age. It’s not only interesting to see if Thornton comes back (and for how much), but also how the Sharks use him. Do they need more from him, or do they keep him at a modified role to preserve the well-traveled veteran?

Actually, that transitions to our second question …

2. Will the veterans avoid the aging curve?

Thornton is the most extreme example of a veteran being asked to play at an advanced age, but with 30 being a point of no return for other players (see: Lucic, Milan), it’s worth wondering if other Sharks can maintain their high levels of play.

Erik Karlsson isn’t quite at that age, but close at 29, and carrying a lot of mileage and pressure. Brent Burns is 34, which is kind of staggering. Logan Couture is also older than some might expect at 30. Martin Jones is 29, Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn’t quite an Olympian any longer at 32, and even Evander Kane is 28.

The Sharks were wise enough to let Joe Pavelski go this summer, which was for the best with their cap constraints, and also he’s in the “somehow” group at 35. Even so, there are quite a few prominent Sharks who could start to decline (or, in some cases, see their abilities plummet … again, see: Milan Lucic). If enough do, this team may be scratching and clawing just to make the playoffs, or worse.

Unless …

3. Can the young guns step up?

Whether Thornton returns or not, Sharks will need more from younger players in a few positions. Pavelski’s gone, as are defensemen Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan.

In some cases, it’s actually easy to see the Sharks making seamless transitions. Timo Meier is a rising star, and he’s done most of his damage without power play time, so expect bigger things with more chances. Tomas Hertl took another step forward as a presence in his own right, while Kevin Labanc seems like a gem, and will have every bit of motivation to cash in after accepting a baffling one-year, $1M contract.

The Sharks will probably need more than just budding stars to confirm their star statuses. They may also need one or more of Dylan Gambrell, Alex True, and Antti Suomela to replace what’s been lost.

They’ll also need head coach Peter DeBoer to tie it all together. Can he integrate younger players, get veterans the right mix between reps and rest, and make it all work enough for the Sharks to remain at a high level, if not climb a bit more? On paper, this looks like a contending team once again, but things can change quickly in the NHL.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks get steal in re-signing Timo Meier

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If you crave drama, and thus have a list of possible offer sheet candidates going, it sounds like you can cross emerging San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier off of that list.

Meier and the Sharks have come to terms and it’s an absolute steal: just $6 million per year, with a four-year term.

That’s incredible value for a forward who’s rapidly rising on the list of the Sharks’ best forwards – not young forwards, just forwards, period – especially since he’s made such a difference without getting the sort of power play time you’d expect a younger scorer to need. With Joe Pavelski out, Gustav Nyquist removed from the picture, and Joe Thornton examining his future, the odds are high that Meier will ascend to that larger role, probably as soon as 2019-20. Don’t be surprised if eye-popping numbers come with that … in fact, close that offer sheet list, and put Meier on your fantasy hockey sleepers list.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

If you watched Meier during the Sharks’ deep run in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you saw a guy who could bull his way to scoring chances and generally make life miserable for opponents. My guess is that Meier will massively outpace that $6M cap hit, probably right away.

It’s actually pretty stunning Meier didn’t try to squeeze out more value here. You know it’s a good deal for the Sharks when you see tweets like these:

Now, some might note that the 22-year-old is only locked down for four years. You can be concerned about the future, but it’s remarkable that the Sharks would maintain some RFA power over Meier. Granted, there are elements that work in Meier’s favor, too:

Overall, this is fantastic stuff for the Sharks. Yes, they’ve had to say some painful goodbyes, but in retaining Meier and re-signing Erik Karlsson, San Jose seems keen to find a way to stay in contention. If that window’s open even longer than expected, it will be because Meier can really carry the torch once Karlsson and Brent Burns inevitably slow down.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension

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For the San Jose Sharks, priority No. 1 has been checked off their offseason to-do list.

That bit came on Monday morning when the Sharks re-signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth what reports suggest will be $92 million once the team makes it official.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for one of the game’s premier rearguards, and rightly so. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson has game-breaking capabilities from the back end. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NHL.

But behind the elation general manager Doug Wilson is feeling at the moment, there also has to be a bit of trepidation.

With Karlsson’s contract expected to be in the $11.5 million AAV region, that leaves the Sharks with roughly $13 million in cap space remaining and only 16 players signed, including 11 forwards.

It’s safe to assume that the end of an era is coming for someone in the Bay Area.

Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are both unrestricted free agents come July 1. Thornton has signed one-year deals with the club for several years now. Pavelski enters the free agent arena for the first time in five seasons after completing the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal.

[MORE: Sharks give Karlsson eight-year extension]

Both are integral parts of the Sharks. And the Sharks may have to let them walk this time.

At 39, Thornton’s on-ice play isn’t worth the $5 million he made last season. He’s the de facto leader of the team, but the Sharks simply can’t afford him at that price point again. If they want him back, a low-salary, bonus-laden contract could be an option.

Losing Pavelski, their captain, would also be a blow.

Despite being 34 (35 next season), Pavelski had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. Not bad for $6 million, and perhaps he goes the Thornton route for a few years and signs one-year deals that allow the Sharks some breathing room.

Does Pavelski deserve a longer-term commitment? Sure. But the Sharks are once again going all-in with the Karlsson signing and this might be Pavelski’s best shot at a Stanley Cup ring as a captain of the team.

Aside from the two superstars, the Sharks need to make sure they lock down some of their younger talent.

Joonas Donskoi is set to become a UFA, as is Gustav Nyquist — a trade deadline pick up who meshed well with the team.

Nyquist is likely the odd-man out here. Going by Evolving Wild’s free agent model projection, Nyquist, 29, could earn a six-year deal in the $5.7 million range. That’s too rich if you’re planning on keeping Thornton and Pavelski around.

Donskoi, 27, is projected to get a three-year deal in the $3 million average annual value region.

And then there’s the restricted free agent crop.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have become great pieces for the Sharks and both now need raises.

Evolving Wild has Meier taking a six-year deal with a cap hit close to $6 million while Labanc is more affordable at three years and around $3.5 million.

Remember, the Sharks have $13 million to play with following the Karlsson extension.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Pavelski gets $7 million and Thornton gets $5 million. That’s $12 million and roughly $1 million left on the cap.

See the problem? And how many extensions do the Sharks want to give older players? Logan Couture‘s six-year, $8 million AAV deal kicks in next season. He’s 30. Brent Burns, 34, has six more years left on a deal that’s paying him the same amount as Couture per season.

The Sharks only need to look further down on a California state map to see Los Angeles and the devastating effects handing big contracts to old players can have.

Still, banners fly forever and the Kings have two of them and the Sharks have zero.

The Sharks could sell off some assets, too, including a Justin Braun ($3.8 million, one year left) or a Brenden Dillon ($3.2 million, one year left) on the back end for some cap relief.

And the point of this exercise is that someone has to go.

The question now is, who?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Glove’n it: Hand pass a pivotal moment in Blues’ Cup run

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Craig Berube made a rare stop in the locker room after the game to address his players. It was important.

It was minutes after San Jose’s Timo Meier had gloved the puck to Gustav Nyquist and wound up being credited with the second assist on Erik Karlsson‘s winning goal in Game 3. It was a blatant missed call, but it was over. St. Louis was suddenly down 2-1 in the Western Conference final.

Berube told his players to forget about it, not to whine about it in interviews, and he set the tone after the game.

”Gotta move on,” Berube said that night. ”We all gotta move on from it and get ready for Game 4. Really that’s all you can do.”

Following the lead of their interim coach, the Blues did exactly that and their response embodied everything about a team that rode an unheralded rookie goaltender and a bruising style from last place in the NHL in January to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston.

”That was a thing that kind of showed our identity as a team,” defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said hours before Game 6 against the Bruins. ”How we did not just crumble under that – not just let it go, but we also turned into our advantage. We used that as fuel for the upcoming game. I think that speaks a ton of this team.”

It speaks to everything about the Blues’ journey. After missing the 2018 playoffs by one point, general manager Doug Armstrong loaded up: He signed forwards Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon and backup goaltender Chad Johnson, traded first- and second-round picks, top prospect Tage Thompson and roster players Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund to Buffalo for Ryan O'Reilly.

That was a pivotal moment in the eyes of longtime Blues defenseman Chris Butler, a St. Louis native.

”Growing up here, the teams were always good, but the Stanley Cup was never really in the question,” Butler said. ”It was, let’s make it 25 years in a row where they were just going to make the playoffs and everyone was kind of happy with that. And then you have a year there where you missed the playoffs, and then the bar was raised this summer.

”You bring in Ryan O’Reilly, you bring in Tyler Bozak, you make some big, gutsy-type trades and acquisitions and struggling for the first handful of months, then things started to click and guys kind of found their role, found their spot and it’s been fun as hell to be a part of.”

The team was mired in last place six months ago, but a bond was forged during a midseason stretch of 70 days without consecutive home games. Season-defining moments soon began piling up:

A night after five players heard “Gloria” repeatedly at a Philadelphia bar, Jordan Binnington began his ascension from fourth-stringer at training camp to starting goalie by posting a shutout in his first NHL start. A franchise-record 11-game winning streak. St. Louis native Patrick Maroon with the game-winning assist in the playoff opener the day after his grandfather died. Gunnarsson’s game-winner in overtime in Game 2 against the Bruins after telling Berube in a locker-room bathroom at intermission he needed just one more chance.

”Any team who wins there’s going to be bits and pieces throughout the season you look back and that was kind of a turning point or that was a big moment for the team,” Gunnarsson said.

No moment was bigger than Berube’s short but straightforward speech in the cavernous home locker room at the downtown St. Louis arena that has been a house of horrors for Blues teams of previous vintages. Berube wouldn’t let this one snowball, and it showed the confidence he has in his second NHL head coaching job.

”That’s a big moment to do that,” longtime friend Rick Tocchet said. ”That quieted the noise.”

If any organization was going to lose on a missed hand pass, naturally it’s the Blues, a team known for years of almost and not quite. At one point, St. Louis was eliminated on home ice by the eventual champion three years in a row.

That’s history Berube doesn’t care about. On this team with six new faces, his comments about the Sharks game resonated immediately.

”Chief came in and he just said, ‘It’s over and just focus on the next one,’ and that’s probably the best thing that we could’ve heard because at the time we were obviously a frustrated group,” defenseman Joel Edmundson said. ”It was one of those things where we could obviously sit on it or we could take it and use as motivation, hopefully. I think we did a good job of using it to our advantage. We came out the next game, I think we scored in the first minute or two.”

It was the first shift. Ivan Barbashev scored 35 seconds into Game 4, Binnington made 29 saves and the Blues marched on.

”It’s how you handle the adversity,” Binnington said. ”It was a key moment for us that we handled it properly and refocused.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ most controversial calls

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The Boston Bruins and their fans were upset about officials not calling a penalty on Tyler Bozak before the Blues’ eventual game-winner in Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, but if misery loves company, than they shouldn’t feel alone.

In fact, the Bruins’ opponents in St. Louis had already been on both sides of some of the most pivotal, polarizing calls of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before Game 5.

Let’s run down some of the biggest controversies of this postseason, starting with Thursday’s non-call. As a note: not every call was necessarily wrong, and this isn’t a comprehensive list, so feel free to air officiating grievances (or grievances about officiating grievances) in the comments.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Missed trip

Should it be considered a trip, a slew-foot, or no penalty at all? Well, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline, it sure seemed like Tyler Bozak thought he was going to the penalty box – just ask Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy – for taking down Noel Acciari.

At that point, the Blues were up 1-0, but moments after that non-call, Ryan O'Reilly found David Perron for what would eventually stand as the game-winning goal.

If the call was made, it would have still been 1-0 rather than 2-0 for the Blues, and the Bruins would have headed to the power play. It’s also worth noting that a) the Bruins seemed discombobulated by that turn of events and b) Acciari was taken out of the play, effectively making it a 5-on-4 situation, so that turn of events also heightened the Blues’ chances of scoring that goal.

The hand pass

It doesn’t get much more pivotal than a blown call in overtime, at least if that call leads to a deciding goal.

Consider this maybe the high point of the trilogy of moments that went the Sharks’ way during their playoff run, as Timo Meier got away with a hand pass before Erik Karlsson scored the OT game-winner in Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference Final against the Blues.

The Blues took the high road following that controversy, and eventually won their series against the Sharks, while top officials noted that the play was not reviewable. Could that be one of those moments that changes the goal review process in 2019-20? We shall see.

Blues score with Bishop down

File this one under the tougher judgment calls.

It all happened pretty quickly, as Ben Bishop went down after a hard shot to the collarbone area from Colton Parayko. Moments later – but arguably with more than enough time for officials to blow the play dead if they chose to – Jaden Schwartz scored a big goal that helped St. Louis force a Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in what would turn out to be an extremely close Round 2 series.

The Gabriel Landeskog incident

It seemed like the Colorado Avalanche tied Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the Sharks, until they didn’t.

Instead, the Sharks reversed Colin Wilson‘s would-be tying goal thanks to an offside review. To Landeskog’s credit, the Avalanche captain took the blame, rather than throwing officials under the bus.

Should that play have been offside? Was there even some room to look at it as too many men on the ice? It was a strange situation, either way, and another moment that worked out for San Jose, as the Sharks ultimately eliminated Colorado.

Major problem

The Golden Knights were up 3-0 against the Sharks in Game 7 of Round 1, and then Cody Eakin was whistled for a major penalty after his check (and a bump from Paul Stastny) led to a terrifying, bloody fall for Joe Pavelski.

The Sharks stunningly scored four goals during that five-minute major, and while Vegas showed scrappiness in sending that Game 7 to overtime, San Jose eventually prevailed. It’s true that the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was preposterously porous during that four-goal barrage, but Vegas was fuming after the loss, with Jonathan Marchessault comparing the perceived officiating mistake to the infamous blown pass interference call that went against the New Orleans Saints.

Most would agree that Eakin deserved to be penalized, while the debate revolves around it being a major and game misconduct. The human element of the situation cannot be ignored, as officials saw a scary scene where Pavelski was bleeding, and it happened in front of a San Jose crowd.

This is another play that might have a ripple effect. Will the NHL decide to make major penalties (or discussions of major penalties) subject to video review?

***

It’s crucial to mention that it must be difficult to officiate any sport, let alone one as fast-paced as hockey. For every call you miss or make, there’s someone behind the scenes complaining about too many or too few calls. After all, Bruce Cassidy believes that Craig Berube’s complaints about officials changed the “narrative” of the Stanley Cup Final.

Getting these calls correct, all the time, is a prime example of “Easier said than done.”

Still, for fans and teams who feel slighted, these moments will reverberate, at least if their runs don’t end with a Stanley Cup victory.

Are there any moments that stand out to you, beyond the five splashy ones above? If you want to dig up old gripes about Wayne Gretzky high-sticking Doug Gilmour, have at it. Replaying those major, split-second decisions is half the fun/agony of being a hockey fan, right?

Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.